Women, Nature and Technology in the Service of Eco-Social Sustainability
Cyber/ecofeminism is a holistic concept that I have coined and adopted to approach the burning issues of information technology, women's studies and the women's movement in the age of globalization. It serves as an ethno- and gender-sensitive compass towards eco-social sustainability in an era where technology has an increasing impact on all aspects of life. In order to resist the Master identity that women, along with men, risk embracing, as they get plugged, downloaded, and wired into the digital world, one needs to introduce alternatives to the models of "compulsory heteronormativity," dichotomous and hierarchical sex/gender systems, as well as dysfunctional, exploitative animal/human relations. The dominant worldview is a world of "bits" and pieces-fragmented, atomistic and hierarchical, like the hidden gender contract with its binary structure, segregation and splitting of male rationality of production and female care and emotional labor. Cyber/ecofeminism is my method and approach also for exploring which of the schools--cyberfeminism OR ecofeminism--promises more hope for a woman-friendly, ecologically, economically and socially, culturally stable and sustainable future.
Françoise d'Eaubonne first invented and used the term ecofeminism in Le Féminisme ou la mort (1989). Ecofeminism has since then been associated with the premise that in global patriarchal practices, women, animals and nature share a subordinate and instrumental relationship to hegemonic, mainstream and dominant men. The s/exploitive attitude is rooted in the Western epistemic tendency to separate feelings and care work as the domain of the subordinate class (particularly women) from reason and productive "rationality," the domain of men and mostly white elites. Denial of feeling-based knowledge and empathy enhances the ability to distance oneself from objects both of research and economic profit-a precondition for the kind of "rationality" that ignores the global ethics of care, belonging and responsibility. Furthermore, underprivileged groups are subject to patterns, attitudes, and institutions of male domination and control that tend to also be gendered "feminine" as one of the means of that control in many parts of the world. Ecofeminists (for all their differences) see humans as integral components of the ecosystem, not separate or superior. Yet another key principle is the importance of non-hierarchical systems which follows from the holistic emphasis on interdependence and which leads to the complementarity and equal status of all parts of the ecosystem (Davies, 1988, 5). Longenecker (1997) argues that our notions of nature and ourselves change qualitatively if we imagine nature, not just humans, as subjects. It is much easier to exploit and abuse entities not perceived as having a soul, whatever "soul" or "spirit" evokes for modern people. A mechanistic interpretation of the surrounding cosmos is likely to lead to commodification of animals and vulnerable groups and serves ecologically short-term interests. Ancient pre-patriarchal gift economies in all their variety (Kailo, 2005a, 2005b, 2004a, 2000) were based on a worldview that was more conducive to mutually respectful and grateful human/animal relations because of the recognition of interspecies interdependency and the core value of life renewal rather than resource extraction: "In practical terms, hunter-gatherers would have to be the affluent societies par excellence. They are self-sufficient and thus genuinely autonomous. They have a stable interchange with their habitat, they use low-impact technologies--they work only a few hours a day, and give energies to social bonds, ceremony and art. Ecologists taking a lesson from Aboriginal cultures might discover how to devise low- demand, low-impact economies where sustainability and social equity can go together, (Salleh, l997, l30) Western industrial and patriarchal cultures have much to learn from "pan-indian" ecologically sustainable philosophies and worldviews in all their diversity although individual members of Native nations do not always practice what their cultural traditions promote.
One of the perceived strengths of cyberfeminism is that it presents women with an optimistic alternative to theoretical positions that relegate women to the status of victims or glorified mothers within a context of a vilified omnipresent patriarchy. By focusing on women's abilities and contributions, cyberfeminist perspectives resist reproducing patriarchal constructions of women as technologically incompetent who cannot be wired into technology. Such views are influenced by post- modern theories, and owe much to the widely cited "Manifesto for Cyborgs" by Donna Haraway (1981). Haraway's article is an effort to displace traditional dualisms that associate women with nature and men with culture and technology. She does this through the cyborg seen as providing a theoretical way out of common western gender relations and representations. The cyborg is presented as breaking down the division between the artificial and the natural because this distinction is no longer practical in modern technological society. For Haraway, woman is the representation, no longer of marginality, otherness, objecthood, but of the middle-ground between humans and machines, the virtual hybrid creatures that everyone is supposedly becoming: "A cyborg is a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (Qtd, in Kemp, 1997, 480). One important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations. She concludes the manifesto with her famous statement: "Although both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess" (Haraway in Kemp, 1997, 482). Perhaps the best known ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva retorts to her in Stolen Harvests. The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (2000) "I would rather be a sacred cow than a mad cow", (75) underscoring the optimism of cyberfeminists, and referring to the downside of cyberprogress-its links with economic greed and the devastating manipulations of unsustainable agribusiness. Sadie Plant also believes that the Internet is triggering most promising debates about gender, race, ethnicity, class because its users have new possibilities now to act without revealing these variables of identity. Finally, women's condition as the other is becoming that of men: "To become the cyborg, to put on the seductive and dangerous cybernetic space like a garment, is to put on the female. If the male human is the only human, the female cyborg is the only cyborg" (Plant, in Kemp, 1997, 506). Plant shares in the optimism of a digital age where women so to speak come to their own as web spinners and spider women-arts needed to surf the waves of the digital age (Kailo 2002a).
Gift circulating archaic societies honoring women, animals and nature through ritual drama are some counter-patriarchal areas of ecofeminist research. Their "gift logic" valorizes meeting everyone's social needs and creating the conditions of basic abundance for all. Cyberfeminisms focus more on the ways in which humans and machines are intertwined and the opportunities opened up by women's integration into the technology-led information society. Although ecofeminists seek to extend an ethic of care and eco-social responsibility to boys and men, not glorifying girls and women as "the angels in the ecosystem" they have been accused of consolidating the stereotype of women's closeness to women and animals. Cyberfeminists have been more motivated to sever this connection. They have not always considered that ecofeminists' key point often is the failure of men to embrace the eco-social values labeled as "feminine." They have been delegated as the duty and realm primarily of women-something feminists feel must be changed if the brave new information society is to become a just and healthy world for all.
COMBINING ECOFEMINISM AND CYBERFEMINISM
On the basis of my research regarding the eco-social impact of neo-liberal globalization, I have grown more skeptical of the promise presented by the cyber revolution for gender equality. I have had opportunities to participate at the events of an international alliance--Feminists for the Gift Economy--and to share views and strategies on ways of exposing, questioning and transforming the competitive and short-sighted neo-liberal agenda. Among others, Vandana Shiva (1993, 2000)and zillah eisenstein (1998) have produced research and counter-patriarchal perspectives on global values that have a sobering effect on any excessive cyberoptimism as regards improvements to women's local/global status. Eisenstein (1998) cites numerous statistics and studies which reveal the darker side of digital culture. Not only has the great advances in information technology and communications led to increasing gender-based injustices, but it has created the world-wide-wedge across many divisions, the leading Western industrialized countries and the developing countries in Africa and Asia, the intersections of gender, class, geography, age, ability and religion being additional factors to consider. Under neo-liberal governments, decision-makers are providing businesses with unprecedented financial support (tax-payer money), which they spend on technological innovations that reduce the need for manpower, thus enhancing unemployment, automatization and accumulation of profit and power for wealthy corporations. Statistics and research (e.g. Wichterich 1998; Ngan-Ling 2003) reveal that across the developed and overexploited world, women serve as the class of cheap and flexible labour that allows the male-dominated fields to enhance their competitive edge-by outsourcing costs and employees to countries with weaker labour and environmental regulations. Women benefit from globalization thanks to the numerous new labour opportunities-however, they are often in sweatshops and involve miserable working conditions. Women's domestic and work-life flexibilities (low-paid or unpaid care work) are as surplus labor a kind of forced gift to the capitalist market economy. We must not forget what has always accompanied technological advances: instead of narrowing, they have tended to deepen the gap between the haves and have-nots, most of whom are women. Information society is also giving women-particularly elderly and poor women of the developing world-the shorter end of the (joy)stick. Eisenstein lists the amount of tax breaks given to corporations and wealthy individuals in l996 as US 440 billion, more than seventeen times the combined cost of state and federal spending on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) (eisenstein l998, 62).
Technology and information society benefit greatly from women's ways of building community. I propose cyber/ecofeminism as a marriage of the two feminist schools (eco- and cyberfeminism) and as a self-reflexive method/worldview seeking to ensure that as feminists, we do not reproduce the hierarchical dualisms and controlling stance of the master imaginary. To be an ecofeminist need not, and often does not mean being technophobic, deluded or bent on mytho-pathetic reverse sexisms. It is not the technologies that alone wreak havoc anymore than it is nature that guarantees bliss and organic autonomy. It is the attitudes, ethos and values that humans bring to both that alone guarantee integrated, affective and solidarity-oriented ways of being in the world, of sustaining the future in ecologically, culturally and ethno-politically sound ways.
Ecofeminist interest in peaceful, just societies and "matriarchal values" is not deluded and irrational as cyberfeminists have assumed. Archaic cultures contain much of the ecological and communal values that are needed in order to transform the dysfunctional profit-focussed world of today. They provide blueprints for denaturalizing today's dominant assumptions according to which self-interest and greed, as well as the competitive impulse are the best guarantors of collective prosperity, economic growth and social wellness. I call the totality of counter-hegemonic, need rather than profit-oriented strategies, approaches, ways of relating and circulating care the Gift Imaginary (Kailo 2005a, 2004a). One of its Internet applications could be the free software and other non-market-oriented gifts meant to make information technology-its material and immaterial innovations-accessible to all. We have to make sure that cyberpower is distributed and shared in an equitable manner between all of the "stakeholders" of the earth. Alternative non-dualistic imagery--adapted to modern times rather than romanticized--may well be found in prehistoric societies, but also in our current eco-social imaginary. Still, our modern imaginations are colonized and imbued with ecologically questionable models of consumerism and a media-run rat race or musical chairs. Gift and Give back economies provide a mind-altering example of a system based on global care, one based on circulating common gifts to those in need, and not only as part of (asymmetrical) exchange (Vaughan l997, 2004). We need them to counter the unholy alliance of concentrated multinational power conglomerates and technological innovations supporting citizen surveillance and militarism done often at the expense of an ecologically and socially healthy planet. We also need counter-hegemonic representations of gender and gender relations that might contribute to men also identifying more with other-oriented gift circulation and solidarity work. As more and more women enter the male-dominated fields of IT and economics with their often competitive and ego-oriented market values, more of the care work needs to be shared equally by men and women. Women must no longer be made the exclusive embodiments and providers of emotional and domestic labor or those meeting the needs of children, the sick and elderly. As women are becoming more like men, men must become more like women. Both need to adopt a healthy and ethical relationship with the "other", including the environment, as the precondition of an ecologically and socially sustainable future.
The widely-spread cross-cultural stories of women finding refuge from patriarchy in the bosom of nature with Bear are examples of archaic representations of human/animal relations that defy the hierarchical, dualistic tenets of the master imaginary. As transmitters of ecospiritual principles and embodiments of inner power they are counter-mythologies that contrast with the dominant anthropocentric heroic myths. In these gynocentric myths women are are not defined in relation to male desire, as currency of exchange and exploitation. Women also need images of their power and multidimensional human possibilities beyond the whore/Madonna dualism or the gender equality discourse aimed at merely turning women into "honorary males". The woman/bear stories displace and challenge many of the taken-for-granted dualisms of Western identity: human-animal, dead-alive, male-female. From today's perspective such alliances linked with "primitive" eco-socially sustainable economics mixed with spiritual beliefs are transgressive of the strict gender scripts and other norms of sex, culture, nature, species (Kailo 2005a, 2002b, 2001a). Neither a reversal of Western dualisms, nor a mystical marriage of opposites, these stories are examples of a representation of human social organization as an eco-social pact that seeks to ensure the reproduction of nature's cycles, of proper human-human and human-animal relations. It is worth recuperating the images that present alternatives to the super-segregated gender roles resurrected by WIRED and other elite male magazines. As we seek to resist the politics of cyberporn and violence, we need representations of hybridity as a symbol of intersubjectivity and equality, not as a mere postmodern game of gender performance in a world of unchanged power relations. Beyond the marriage of machinery, technology and gender, we need role-models of ethical belonging and examples of peaceful societies to show aggression and fierce other-denigrating and trampling competitiveness are not a universal norm (Miedzien l991). We need also cybergoddesses with a difference: not as decorative and sexy objects, consumerist gifts for the male gaze, but as tokens of another scene, also of and for women of colour, poor women, women and MEN out to nurture the eco-social sustainable future of each other, and of the planet.
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